How Tom Botz Double-Dips In Public Dollars And Extracts Maximum Profits From the Low-Income Families Of Hillside Villa
The Hillside Villa Apartments were constructed for the public good. Now, they’re a cash register for Tom Botz.
We’ve already uncovered some clues to who Tom Botz, the owner of the Hillside Villa Apartments, really is. He’s a man whose company was literally found guilty of discriminating against families for evicting tenants in response to their children playing in the courtyard; who escapes to a “Silk Road motorcycle tour” in Asia while residents desperately try to negotiate a deal to stay in their homes; and who is willing to kick hundreds of people, including senior citizens and children, onto the streets in order to make greater profits.
Here is a deeper look at how Tom Botz lines his pockets by extracting as much money as possible from both the public coffers and the low-income families at the Hillside Villa Apartments in Chinatown.
71% of LA’s expiring “affordable housing” units are owned by for-profit landlords, meaning Tom Botz is just a symptom of the deeply problematic model of privatized low-income housing that is dominant across the country. The behaviors detailed here are very likely replicated by many other landlords profiting off of public funds.
Using eminent domain to purchase Hillside Villa — recently formally proposed by Councilmember Gil Cedillo — can be justified for the sole reason that it takes the building away from Botz.
Allowing Tom Botz to own and manage Hillside Villa is a huge waste of public money and a nightmare for the people that live there.
Double-Dipping In Housing Subsidies
For starters, Tom Botz is double-dipping in public subsidies and collecting market rents for what is supposed to be a low-rent building.
Hillside Villa was built for low-income tenants in the late 1980s with $5.5 million of public money. The presumed low rents in the future would be made up for by the public funds provided upfront.
But Tom Botz took over the building in 2000 and now rents out a majority of the 124 units to tenants with Section 8 Vouchers. Under this program, the landlord charges market-rate rents, tenants pay a maximum of 30% of their incomes, and the Housing Authority makes up the difference to the landlord.
Botz, then, gets high rents through public money even though millions of taxpayers’ dollars were provided upfront on the assumption that rents would be low.
We are allowing Botz to get rich off public funds with this egregious double-dipping. Using eminent domain to take the building can end this.
Slum Conditions To Maximize Profits
The tenants called out the “slow deterioration of our building due to lack of maintenance” in their original demand letter over a year ago, and Botz’ slumlord management style has only further revealed itself as the fight has gone on.
In a period of just a few months, several tenants have had their homes completely flooded — one incident the result of a busted pipe that flooded multiple rooms on the first floor, and another due to a malfunctioning sprinkler system.
In the former, a mother and father who are leaders in the Tenants Association were denied a relocation unit. Instead, they were offered $10,000 by management to leave. But they want to stay, and they and their two children were forced to live with mold, damp floors, and putrid smells for weeks.
Other issues from the beginning have involved rodent and insect infestations, broken elevators, dingy kitchen appliances, and run-down floors and walls.
These poor conditions are not a coincidence; they’re the inevitable result of a slumlord like Tom Botz refusing to maintain the building properly in order to maximize profits.
Extracting Huge Fees At Every Opportunity
Outrageous fees charged by Botz are another issue that the tenants identified from the very beginning. Parking in particular has been a sore spot.
Multiple tenants report that parking was free when they moved in and for several years after. Recently, though, Botz has used the building’s sizable parking lot to extract as much cash as possible from the low-income families who live there.
Alba (not her real name), a Section 8 tenant, says she first remembers being charged for parking in 2011, when suddenly management was demanding $60 per month for her parking spot. Then they raised it to $90, and now she pays $120 per month.
Raul (not his real name) says parking was free when he moved in in 1996. In 2016 he asked for an extra spot and was told he’d be charged $75, which as increased to $110 last year. Last year they also started charging him $50 for his original spot — so he pays a total of $160 for two spots.
Several other families have provided me with similar figures and stories. Many also report increases in other fees being increased, like for late rent. The late rent fee was recently increased from $25 to $50.
Added up across the whole 124-unit building, these fees likely amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for Botz per year, extracted straight from the pockets of the low-income families this building is meant to serve.
This building was meant to serve the public good, but instead it’s making a wealthy slumlord from Malibu even richer. The city must use eminent domain to restore the original purpose of Hillside Villa.